Real Pilots Don't Carry Barographs


Ace was back on the ground, which signaled that the soaring day was over. He was always the last to land with his signature return; ten feet above the runway, inverted at redline. Then he'd push up, do a split-S, land and roll to the back of his trailer. He flew an old Libelle with a fixed gear and had what everyone referred to as Libelle Leprosy. Big chunks of the Gelcoat were flaking off from years of sitting outside on an open trailer. The canopy had turned the color of week old coffee.

Ace earned his nickname from having destroyed five aircraft, unfortunately none of them belonged to the enemy. His first kill came during primary training when, on his first solo flight, he ground looped a Stearman on takeoff and ran over his instructor before putting the ship over on its back. Fortunately the instructor had hit the ground and got nothing worse than a tire track across his backside as Ace careened over him. Ace left for gunnery school the next morning.

He was assigned to the top ball turret on a B-24 and on his first training flight, he swung the ball with guns blazing and sawed off the tops of both rudders. The ship went into a spin and everyone hit the silk. Kill number two for Ace. He spent the rest of the war at Marfa, Texas as a cook.

When he got out he managed somehow to get a commercial license and started crop spraying. During the war he had also taken up drinking and it was hard to tell whether he was sloshed on bug spray or Jack Daniels, which is the way he flew most of the time. Crashing crop dusters was the way he got kills number three, four and five. The last one stove him up so bad that he decided to give up spraying bugs from the air and start squirting them under sinks. He also gave up drinking the hard stuff and limited himself to a couple beers after soaring was over.

He now operated an exterminating business and drove around in a ratty old pickup truck with a big plastic roach with rubber legs mounted on top of the cab. You could spot him half a mile away as he topped the hill coming to the gliderport. The first thing you could see was that huge roach that looked like it was running down the road. The sign on the door said, "Ace's Exterminating Service. If I can't kill it, you'd better get the hell out".

After stowing his glider on the trailer, Ace joined the rest of the crowd around picnic tables at the clubhouse. The hangar doors rolled shut, signaling that the beer lamp was lit and Ace popped his favorite brew.

A young fellow who had only recently soloed was giving a spellbinding account of his flight that day. "I got out of position with a big loop in the towrope but managed to get back without having to release." He told of releasing in a thermal but falling out and heading back to the field, only to be saved just before entering the pattern when he spotted a hawk circling. His account went on and on about how much lift was on one side of the thermal and how much sink on the other. He told of what a struggle it was to get back to release altitude where he finally found strong lift that took him to four thousand feet above his release altitude.

He ended his long diatribe by saying, "If I'd only had a barograph, I would have silver altitude."

Ace popped his second beer, looked across the table at him and asked, "Son, how many hours do you have?"

The young pilot whipped his log book from his back pocket, flipped it open and said, "With today's thirty seven minute flight, I now have seven hours and twenty-six minutes."

"Hell," said Ace, "I got more time than that on fire. Besides, real pilots don't carry barographs."


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Copyright 2000 by Jim Foreman